It means something when you make an album called The Shape of Punk to Come. For Swedish punks Refused, it wasn’t just a play on Ornette Coleman’s weirdo jazz great The Shape of Jazz to Come, or even a reference to the dystopian H.G. Wells’ work The Shape of Things to Come – it was a statement, an attempt at creating a blueprint for the genre that would live on after their demise. When the band returned in 2015 with Freedom, it seemed like they weren’t able to read their own map: they teamed up with megastar producer Shellback (who also worked with Taylor Swift on “Bad Blood” and Carly Rae Jepsen on “Run Away With Me” that same year) and churned out something that may have seemed like a Refused record, but was anything but.

As such, you’d be entirely forgiven for side-eyeing – or even outright ignoring – the existence of War Music, the band’s first album since Freedom. The band seems somehow more furious than they did on Shape of Punk, which is no surprise. As a result, their focus is a lot clearer, which makes it a shockingly refreshing listen. It’s also a total onslaught, with little reprieve from the relentless pummeling it puts you thought – and at just 35 minutes, it hits a sweet spot where you feel fired up, rather than worn down. It’s impressive that they’re still able to make moshpit-inciters like “Turn the Cross” and seem like they really mean all the furious things they’re saying.

The good news is that amid all the fury, they can sure write a damn good hook. War Music’s songs are all damn catchy, their choruses just anthemic enough that you find yourself chanting “One spark to set it off/ One match is all we need/ Wanna stack your values high/ And douse with gasoline” and “Blood red until I’m fucking dead, blood red until the end” under your breath at work, which is bound to upset somebody if you aren’t careful. Dennis Lyxzén isn’t always a subtle songwriter, and his rapid-fire fired-up punk poetry is one of the weakest points of War Music. Lines like “What we lost in the fire we’ll find in the ashes/ There’s an untold promise ‘neath the rubble of the ruin” and “All stoic heroes with medals on our chests/ Stiff upper lips but turncoats nonetheless” feel a little too obvious. It doesn’t matter, though, because Lyxzén’s voice – which sounds just as powerful 20 years after Shape of Punk – feels like a flamethrower, which sharpens even the weakest lines here.

The songs that don’t pummel you as hard are still battering rams, but in the case of “Malfire” or the fascinatingly-crafted “Damages III” (which switches tracks halfway through so quickly that you can miss that it’s the same song), their ability to nail down the loud-quiet-loud thing is part of what separates them from every other hardcore punk act out there. What holds it back from being as satisfying as Shape of Punk is that the band only starts to feel like they’re willing to sound like their genre-busting selves near the end of the album, with “Damages III” and “Death In Vännäs” coming in as album standouts for that exact reason. But as good as War Music is, it’s hard not to wish they’d given themselves permission to go for broke with their sound a tiny bit more.

With War Music, we get to see an alternate version of Refused’s Lazarus-like rebirth – one where they come back because they’re too angry about the state of the world and are compelled to make furious punk music about it. Freedom came at a time where people seemed slightly more complacent, but the times we’re in are perfect for the relentless unrest that is sewn within the fabric of Refused. It’s imperfect, and it won’t have the same impact as Shape of Punk did, but the band heard here sounds anything but complacent. It seems like they’re following the blueprint that they themselves left behind, as though they’d left it not only for vast scores of other bands, but for themselves.

  • Concert Review: Refused

    The world still needs bands like Refused. Here’s hoping their next Portland show isn’t pre…
  • Holy Hell! The Shape of Punk to Come Turns 20

    Its arm of influence stretches beyond hardcore punk, with its collage of other genre inter…
  • Refused: Freedom

    What’s most disappointing is that there was reason to get one’s hopes up over a new Refuse…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Everything Everything: Re-Animator

Even at its best it misses some of the old spark. …